Thursday, October 9, 2008

Paper Proposal Draft

That Dang Thing: Computer Literacy and the Elderly

My paper studies computer literacy among the elderly, especially among widows. Drawing on the book Older Americans and Computers by Bonny Bhattacharjee and the article “Older Computer-Literate Women: Their Motivations, Obstacles, and Paths to Success” by Rita L. Rosenthal, I question the motivations of some programs that seek to bring computer literacy to the elderly and offer suggestions that focus on familial, medical, local, and religious uses of the Internet for older users.
Recent figures suggest that computer use has risen to 25% among older populations (Gatto and Tak, “Computer, Internet, and E-mail Use Among Older Adults: Benefits and Barriers”); women are now using computers as much as men if not more, and confidence is on the rise. However, the poor, minorities, and widowers and widows often have little or no access, and little or no help attaining the skills they need. I focus on that last group because less research has been done on bereavement (loss of social grounding) as a barrier to computer literacy than on class and race concerns; I also have two widowed grandmothers who are sporadic computer users, and I wanted to better understand their particular connections to the Internet.
As we might expect, studies have shown that computer use can counteract loneliness and depression, aid in the bereavement process, and help elders attain health information. As Gatto and Tak write, use often leads to a feeling of “connectedness, satisfaction, utility, and positive learning experiences.” These feelings must be preceded by computer literacy, however, and the barriers to such literacy for elderly people are numerous.
What my paper focuses on primarily are those barriers Gatto and Tak identify: “frustration, physical and mental limitations, mistrust, and time issues.” Mistrust is of particular interest here because it points to an education problem, a problem, for widows and widowers, that is exacerbated by newfound individuality. It might be remedied, I argue, with creativity, patience, and some old-fashioned product placement; those seeking to help older users become active members of lively Internet exchange need only to look for ways to package their information in recognizable terms. I argue that families of the elderly, medical professionals, local news sources, and churches should promote computer-education services to combat computer illiteracy and mistrust of technology. These are the organizations that engender trust and can be the proverbial spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine of computer lessons go down.
Using S. Fox's Older Americans and the Internet and M. Hilt's and H.J. Lipschultz's “Elderly
Americans and the Internet: Email, TV, Information and Entertainment Websites,” I offer user-friend solutions to the frustration problem, as well. Perhaps most importantly, though, I lobby for computer applications that cater directly to the needs of those who are easily alienated by information overload.
Many elders achieve computer literacy by ginger steps; these steps, though, are integral to a feeling of connectedness and can bring folks toward a sense of independence and achievement.

6 comments:

Lydia said...

So let the praises commence: You have definitely tapped into a topic that surprises me and is probably open for research and theorizing. I like the "Dang Thing" and the use of the word "folks" at the end (which I assume to be intentional, though perhaps I am wrong). I'm amazed that you found the book/info and that you were motivated to do so. I'm now running short on time and will have to come back to more praise, some say back, and more commentary a bit lack.

Todd said...

Dave,

This is an extremely interesting topic! Your proposal made me want to read these books ... so ...you must be doing something right. Anyway, here are some things that I think work well in your proposal:

1.) As Lydia mentioned, the title is extremely catchy. I think your title would stand out on a conference program.

2.) You do a good job of explaining the theoretical framework in which you are working - in the sense that you describe the books that have inspired your research. This allows you to really contextualize your presentation.

3.) Your argumentative purpose is very clear. This is a very informative proposal.

Here are some things that you may want to reconsider:

1.)There are a few word choice moments where I think you may want to reconsider how you are expressing your ideas:

> First sentence: My presentation / discussion will focus on computer literacy … rather than “My paper studies computer literacy”

>In your last paragraph there is a typo (you need to insert the term “user friendly”)

> In the middle of your proposal: The sentence that began with “What my paper focuses on primarily” sounded a little informal to me. I’m not sure why … but I kept coming back to it..

2.)I also think that you should emphasize the focus of the conference in your presentation. You could maybe try to make a stronger effort to demonstrate how your conference fits the theme. You may even want to use the phraseology of the CFP.

3.)I don’t know what to make of the personal aspects of this proposal. On one hand, I like how you discuss your two grandmothers – it demonstrates how and why you are invested in this study. On the other hand, this section did feel a little displaced to me. Perhaps you could reconsider how and where it appears in this proposal.

Lydia said...

So I had started with praise... let me continue:

Like Todd, I also enjoy the contextualization of your research (even recent statistics). You also very clearly show the gap in research concerning bereavement and widows/widowers within the elderly population.

So here is my say back: You suggest that since computer use could be a tool to combat depression and aid in bereavement, that greater attention needs to be paid to helping the elderly who are experiencing grief (widows/widowers) to attain computer literacy so that they can benefit from this community, and perhaps more importantly you argue that computer/internet applications need to change in order to overcome the barriers the elderly experience.

So what can I help with?

Though your purpose becomes clear, it takes me quite a while to see where you are going (specifically in the direction of the change in applications). At first, I just wonder, but why widows in particular? You clear this up, but I wonder if the discussion of how internet literacy can help the bereavement process should be foregrounded before introducing your elderly widows? I also wonder if your focus (what can be done to make computers more accessible, vs. what can be done to catch the seniors up?) should be mentioned a bit earlier. On that note, what can be done? Will this be a call to action for programmers? family members? community members?...?

I'm going to quote you now a little bit b/c I wonder if your focus is actually broader than what I've described, and if so, if it is too broad:

"It might be remedied, I argue, with creativity, patience, and some old-fashioned product placement; those seeking to help older users become active members of lively Internet exchange need only to look for ways to package their information in recognizable terms."

"I argue that families of the elderly, medical professionals, local news sources, and churches should promote computer-education services to combat computer illiteracy and mistrust of technology."

"I offer user-friend solutions to the frustration problem, as well."

"Perhaps most importantly, though, I lobby for computer applications that cater directly to the needs of those who are easily alienated by information overload."

This seems like a lot of arguments, actually, for fifteen minutes. From a logistical point of view, I'd suggest narrowing to one assertion you think you can back up the most.

I like the application angle. If this is the angle you take, what will the paper look/sound like? Will you examine the ways in which applications are currently not catering to the elderly and then offer specific solutions for ways they could?

Alternately, do you have specific suggestions for community support systems attempting to help elderly computer users become more comfortable with technology as it stands?

I think Todd already did a good job pointing out areas of confusion. I kind of like the inclusion of your grandmothers, though it does feel tangential perhaps because of where it is placed right now.

Rock said...

Not that my comments will add anything since Lydia and Todd did a thorough job of discussing many of my observations.
Most notably, the number of solutions to the problem.
The stats you roll out are perfect. Perhaps consider revising the "However" sentence it the second P and just state your focus.
I agree that the inclusion of your family is important, since it is your motivation, but in my opinion, it should come up during the introduction of the presentation, not in the proposal.
There is, however, a balance. Mention something about "my family" or something.
Nevertheless, this appears well on its way to being complete.

Dave said...

Thank you all for you comments. I will try to address them on the blog and in the proposal. Now to get at Todd and Lydia's proposals!

albertoid said...

David,
Yes, a surprising topic. A good one. I agree with Todd that might try to relate it to literacy studies etc.

I like the mention of grandmothers as motivation. I wonder if you could interview them about it and use some of that in your proposal and talk? Then it would not be tangential. My mother struggles to use a very out of date computer, does not want to replace it, uses AOL (!) which is going away, is nearly blind, and learns tech stuff very slowly and it scares her.

You might want to place your solutions in some kind of bullet format.

What applications cater to info-overloaded users?